Monday, January 10, 2011

Lay Assitance in Communing the People and Something About Deacons

Father Beane's post on children's sermons and the CTS calendar spawned a conversation (world without end, Amen.) that went in several different directions - one of which dealt with lay assistance at distribution and what this had to do with AC XIV, modern Roman practice, modern Lutheran practice, and so forth.

I don't think there can be any argument over the fact that in the minds of those who wrote and originally subscribed to AC XIV it meant that only ordained ministers (whether priest or deacons - the Lutheran understanding of the latter seems rather fluid: see below) would be consecrating and distributing the Lord's Supper to the laity. Never had it been otherwise in the long history of the Church. Indeed, some of the first canons we have from early meetings of bishops deal with who communes whom: and never, ever, is it laity who is distributing the Lord's Supper.

So, anyone reading AC XIV in 1530 would know exactly what it meant: only clergy consecrate and distribute the Lord's Body and Blood. That is the original intent of the article - and I really don't think that this is a point that can be controverted. To try to find wiggle room in there for another practice ("it says administer - not distribute") is to be anachronistic. It's a bit like lawyers trying to argue for new Constitutional "rights" that are beyond the obvious original intent of the US Constitution.

If one does wish to controvert the point: we'll need historical evidence that laity ever distributed the Sacrament before the 16th century or in subsequent Lutheranism in the 16th century. That bit in the Confessions that Fr. Weedon is always so found of pointing out really is a good key to Confessional Hermeneutics: in doctrine and ceremonies nothing has been received on our part contrary to Scripture or the Church Catholic (Epilogue to AC XXVIII). It is simply a historical fact that at the very least, lay distribution of the Supper is a ceremony contrary to the usage of the Church Catholic up to 1530.

Therefore, I find it hard to view this practice as anything other than an abuse - and a widespread one, at that.

Why Lay Assistance at Distribution?

Why does the practice exist? In my experience, for two reasons. First, in most every place that the practice exists, it exists for the sake of time: a distribution by just the pastor would take too long. A big part of the problem here is the innovation of the individual cups which requires three passes by the pastor for each table.

Second, it exists to make the point that "there is nothing special about the pastor" or that the pastor is "only doing things in public that every Christian could do." I do not think that that is what everybody means by this practice - certainly not everybody does. But I have heard this sentiment more than once - so it is out there. Also - what else could be behind lay distribution existing in so many places with two, three, or more pastors?

What have the fruits of this practice been? For one thing, women distributing the supper. Because, after all, if this lay man can do it, why not this lay woman? I can recite the synodical reasoning about only men doing "specific functions" of the ministry - but that's kind of an odd reasoning, right? I mean, if it is distinctive to the function of the Office, why is any layman of either sex doing it? For another thing - didn't lay distribution pave the way "Word and Sacrament ministry" from a "lay minister"? If you stick him in an alb and he carries around a chalice and he's a layman and the Altar Book calls him an "Assisting Minister" - well, then, he's a lay minister!

The point about the length of time it takes to distribute is a fair one, as far as it goes. Yes, the people should be more pious - so should we clergy. Yes, we should be willing to walk 100 miles for confession - but you are better off making it a bit more convenient for the people.

Moving Away from Lay Distribution: One Congregation's Experience

In the parishes I serve, we moved away from the practice rather quickly in the following manner. First, I sat down with the "elders" - it's Dr. Al Collver, by the way, who did the leg work on digging up the roots of the misuse of that term among us in the January 2006 issue of Concordia Journal - and just showed them the rubrics from The Lutheran Liturgy about distribution. Your mileage may vary, of course, but my elders got it right away: ministers distribute the Lord's Supper. And it turns out that they had never been comfortable with the practice anyway. Didn't seem to them like it was their job, they said.

After that meeting, we went with the following practice by way of transition: the pastor took the Host, and then came back round to take the Chalice, and the lay elder would follow the pastor with the individual cups, simply carrying them for the pastor. But it was the pastor who would speak to each communicant, "Take, drink, the very Blood of Christ, shed for you."

The lay elders have since stopped doing even that - the catalyst for that was an elder not being able to be there one Sunday and behold: things went smoothly enough with just the pastor communing the people. But this practice is, I think, much less objectionable than what usually happens - namely, the layman bringing the Chalice and saying, "Take, drink,..." etc. - perhaps it will be of benefit to some of our readers.

What was the reaction of the parish to phasing out lay distribution? The elders were universally pleased and exactly one other grumpy old man told me that he was glad we were done with that because he always thought it inappropriate. Again, your mileage will no doubt vary.

But is there a better way still?

Deacons: What Are They? Where Can I Get Some?

Looking at our current practice of lay distribution from a slightly different angle, I think that what we have done is essentially turn certain members of our parish into "lay deacons." There has always been a need in the Church for assistance to parish pastors in their sacred duties - the sort of assistance that, in general, is unpaid or lowly paid, part-time, and yet clerical. This is the historical role of the deacons.

Deacons have a share in the Office of the Ministry - they are trained, called, examined, and ordained - but they are not the same thing, exactly, as presbyters. Where the NT uses the terms presbyter and episcopos interchangeably for the same office, there is an obvious distinction when it comes to deacons (Act 6; 1 Tim 3).

The first Lutheran ordination was of a deacon - Georg Rörer in 1525. It seems that the term in that time and place meant rather what we mean by "assistant pastor." But again, I'm frankly a little foggy on that point of history and would appreciate help. It's clear that the Lutheran confessions reject any essential, ius divinum distinction between priest and bishop - and that this fact is foundational to our self-understanding as Church instead of sect (again, see the seminal essay by Piepkorn). But what about deacons? What is their calling by divine right and what limits are put upon their service only by ius humanum? Are they in the one, unified Office of the Holy Ministry, but simply, and by human law, not called upon to perform all the duties thereof? Or do deacons exhibit a divinely instituted second office related to but distinct from the Office of the Ministry? Or do Lutherans believe in a two-fold office of the ministry (presyber/episcopos and deacon) like unto Rome's view of a three-fold office (episcopos, presbyter, deacon)?

The Biblical evidence, it seems to me, favors the last understanding. However, I have yet to see a good treatment of these questions from a Confessional Lutheran viewpoint - which does not mean it isn't out there, so if it is, please inform me.

All that is just to say this: distributing the Cup is the historical duty of the Deacon in those parishes large enough to need that sort of assistance for their Presbyter/Episcopos. The Deacon is a clergyman, he is ordained, he is not a layman, he receives communion from the Celebrant after the presbyters are communed, and then he distributes the Cup to the laity. He also does a lot more - very useful, godly work in the parish. I think we would do well to recapture their service.

But we need to understand more, I think. What exactly are deacons? If we understood that, we could provide guidelines for calling and ordaining men in local congregations as deacons where that sort of service is needed. And then the distribution would not only be timely and efficient, but also in accord with the historical meaning of our Confessions.



  1. "...niemand in der Kirche öffentlich lehren oder predigen oder Sakramente reichen soll ohne ordentlichen Beruf.

    The verb "reichen" means to "reach" or "hand out," i.e. "distribute." Since this was originally translated into English as "administer," most people think this is primarily talking about consecration, or at least "being in charge of" or "presiding over" the Sacrament (think of an "administrator" in the modern understanding of the term).

    As if the evidence already presented here and elsewhere isn't enough, I believe the following confessional statements show even more conclusively that the use of the verb "reichen" in Melanchthon's German in the AC is referring distinctively and specifically to the distribution of the Sacrament, and the word which would be used for being the celebrant at the Sacrament is the German verb "handeln."

    “Daher ist nun leicht zu antworten aus allerlei Fragen, damit man sich jetzt bekümmert, als diese ist: ob auch ein böser Priester könne das Sakrament handeln und geben, und was mehr dergleichen ist." [FC, SD, art. VII, par. 24]

    "Nun lehren die unsern also, daß die Gewalt der Schlüssel oder der Bischöfe sei laut des Evangeliums eine Gewalt und Befehl Gottes, das Evangelium zu predigen, die Sünde zu vergeben und zu behalten und die Sakramente zu reichen und zu handeln." [AC, art. XXVIII, par. 25]

    Continued below....

  2. If Melanchthon had wished to address the entire consecration and and distribution of the Sacrament, he would have used two verbs instead of only using "reichen." In using "reichen" he was specifically addressing the issue of distribution.

    The reason for this specificity of language might be difficult to understand were it not for the historical background on what accusation the Augsburg Confession was responding to. Melanchthon's words were chosen specifically in response to Eck's charge regarding the following statement of Luther's:

    "Even so one should observe, and not despise, the established orders of authority. Only make no mistake about the sacrament and its effect, as if it counted for more when given by a bishop or pope than when given by a priest or a layman. As the priest's mass and baptism and distribution of the holy body of Christ is just as valid if the pope or bishop were doing it, so it is with absolution, that is, the sacrament of penance." (LW 35:12).

    Guess what word is translated as "distribution" above.... that's right, it's reichung (actually an older German spelling, "reychung") --see WA 2:716.

    Eck took Luther out of context and accused him of saying that since all baptized Christians "are equally priests" they can therefore perform all the duties of the priest, including preaching, baptism, and "distribution (reychung) of the holy body of Christ." The Augsburg Confession responds: Of Ecclesiastical Order they teach that no one should publicly teach in the Church or distribute [reichen] the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.

    This helps explain why, until relatively recent times, only those who are rite vocatus distributed the sacrament. Firstly, we have lost the historical background for our Confessions, which takes them out of context. Secondly, our commitment to and understanding of the German language used in our Confessions has clouded our understanding of the theology, just as our ancestors feared it would when Lutherans adopted the English language.

  3. Indeed. What are deacons? In Lutheran Church Canada we have confused everything by calling any professional church worker other than a pastor a deacon (parochial school teachers, DCE, DPS, etc). What a mess.

  4. I think in many ways this gets convoluted by the question of what exactly the office of "elder" is meant to be. I would guess that most congregations that have someone assisting in the distribution have an elder do so - someone elected by the congregation to assist the pastor. In many places, the elders seem to function (ah, a word that seems to pop up often in North American discussions on anything related to the ministry) as temporary deacons, serving in that office for a term and then stepping down.

    I'd suggest that it is this office of elder that would cause more confusion if someone were to be transported to today from the 1530s. If they were to come to my congregation they would see a man in a alb who receives communion from me, and then assists with the chalice (well, later on the tray of individual cups, with is another discussion entirely).

    I think the question becomes more of why our deacons are only given that office temporarily, and as such, aren't ordained, merely installed?

  5. Fr. Curtis,
    This is a great article and spot on completely. The office of deacon as the Bible uses it has been ignored and so, since the needs for the office have remained, we have literally stuck folks who had no business serving in such a place. I assure you, there are some of us who long for such an office, are preparing ourselves for such, desire education, examination, ordination, and then service to a pastor and church wherever God would put us.

    Fr. Beane will hopefully weigh in on this as he, Br. Michael Greene and some of the fathers and brothers in the SSP have been doing some work on this.

    Steve Foxx SSP

  6. Dr. Heidenreich,

    I was hoping you would chime in as I knew you had done the leg work in the German on this one: thanks.

    Mr. Foxx,

    I very much hope to see what Fr. Beane and Br. Greene (wasn't that a BBC comedy?) come up with!


  7. Fr. Brown,

    In general, I agree with your comments - but based on our previous conversations on similar topics, let me ask you: do people who occasionally have sex become temporarily married?

    The problem with fornication is that people are acting like they are married when they are not.

    The problem with lay distribution is that people are acting like deacons when they are not.

    The problem with lay ministers is that they are acting pastors when they are not.

    Usurping a function does not place one into an office temporarily or otherwise.


  8. This all sounds so familiar. Oh where have I heard this before? ;)

    Nice post.

  9. Fr. Curtis,

    The question that I would have in response is whether or not an elder is in fact a deacon. You say that "usurping a function does not place one into an office" -- but I don't think you can call communion assistants usurpers. I've never had anyone push their way to the front of the congregation and starting distributing the Supper. Anyone doing that has been given that responsibility. Hence, I don't think we can call it usurping.

    Now, we might say that the office isn't being filled in a proper way (given the temporary nature of most of our elders) or that it is being filled in a ingeniousness way (via "lay" ministry) - but you don't really usurp an office when you are placed in there by people with authority.

    What I think is interesting, and I wonder if anyone here knows enough about this, would be the pre-89 practice that some districts had of ordaining "deacons" (I think common in the Northwest and some other districts - but I'm not sure) to do word and sacrament ministry (albeit as an end-around the seminaries).

    I also wonder to what extent the custom of the synod plays in with this as well - as our custom is that pastors are trained and certified by a seminary, is that something that should be part and parcel of being qualified for the Seminary? That's probably why SMP was designed to be the "fix" to lay ministry... without really replacing it (however, the few pre-89 deacons I've met are quick to point out that lay ministry didn't replace them).

    I know this gives more questions and no answers, but this is partially because I can think of many understandings of the Office that would fit AC XIV (indeed, a 1-fold, 2-fold, or 3-fold Office, with differing derivations on those folds) - I'm more concerned with keeping consistent with what a body has decided its going to do. The call needs to be external.

    (And finally, in response to your first question, according to our Lord they are not temporarily married - they are just married, and it doesn't matter whether or not it is occasional or not. However, legally speaking, there is no civil marriage in our jurisdiction.)

  10. Fr. Brown,

    Petitio principii, my friend. Who says a congregation has the authority to tell a man to distribute the Supper without placing him into an office referred to in AC XIV? A congregation has no authority but what God has given them. Where in the Bible or the Confessions did you read of God giving a congregation the right to tell a layman to distribute the Supper? Certainly not in AC XIV as I noted above. . .

    I cannot understand your last paragraph, try as I might. Help me out - are you really saying just having sex with somebody makes a man married to her? Do you misunderstand my question? Am I misunderstanding your response?


  11. Pr. Brown claims: "but you don't really usurp an office when you are placed in there by people with authority."

    1. Who exactly are these "people with authority" to place upon a layman the duties of a deacon? The pastor? The congregation? Whence do they derive such authority?

    2. Your statement would allow for women priests, and any other ungodliness in the Church, so long as it were put in place by "people with authority."

  12. Brown writes: "I'm more concerned with keeping consistent with what a body has decided its going to do."

    This is the epitome of institutionalization and synodism, not Theology and churchmanship.

  13. Fr. Curtis,

    What offices are named in AC XIV? It simply says that one is to be called according to the rite. Of course, if one is elected to serve an office, is one really "lay"? Our terms are just really, really sloppy in English.

    As to the last - when the woman at the well tells Jesus that she has no husband, He tells her, "you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband." But, still, not married. They are and they aren't and deny the reality that should be established with sex as the consummation of marriage.

  14. Pr. Brown:
    I am confused by this statement: "The call needs to be external."

    What do you mean by this? Are you implying that laymen have some sort of "call" to do the work of the deacon, since their duties have been spelled out by the congregation?

    Please elaborate. For it is sounding like, while some argue against Curtis' and my position on the grounds that those administering the Sacrament to the people are not Administering the Sacrament, with a capital A, your position seems to be on the other side of the field, namely, the Confessions do have distribution in mind, and lay men on the board of elders have this rite vocatus. Is that right? If so, please elaborate. From where do you get this doctrine?

  15. OK - so you agree that sex doesn't make you married to someone.

    History tells us exactly what rite vocatus means. There really is no mystery here. It's not sloppy - and it's not in English.

    I suggest that you reread Piepkorn's essay “The Sacred Ministry and Holy Ordination in the Symbolic Books of the Lutheran Churches,” in Concordia Theological Monthly 40 (1969), also reprinted in the ALPB collection of his essays.


  16. From Herl's *Worship Wars* (p. 41):

    An assisting priest in a parish was called a deacon or chaplain. The deacon had specific liturgical functions in a liturgical service, such as reading the Gospel and handling the chalice during communion. In a very few large churches with a great deal of ceremony, a subdeacon read the epistle and carried the houseling cloth...

    FWIW. It seems to me that in the 16th century it was clear that the deacon was fully in the office of the ministry and was distinct from the pastoral assistant known as the parish clerk - that fellow also had liturgical duties, most of which centered around bell ringing and leading the singing, assisting in admitting to the Sacrament and pinch hitting for the pastor when he was ill by leading catechetical instruction.

  17. Pr. Brown asks: "Of course, if one is elected to serve an office, is one really "lay"?"

    If you hold that one is in an office by virtue of his election to that office, then would you say the seminary graduate, with his call papers in his hand, who won't be ordained for another three or four months, is in the office of pastor?

  18. Father Brown writes, "If one is elected to an office, is one really 'lay.'"

    Depends on what office - the man elected President of the United States does not thereby cease to be a layman in the Church.

    The "office" of "lay elder" is not a Biblical category anyway. At least I can't remember the verse.

    Really, I think you are trying too hard. There was no such thing a "lay elder" in 1530. That is simply not what the Confessions have in mind. That much, at least, should not be controversial in any way.


  19. Latif,

    In response to your two questions (although I don't wish to dominate the comments here again, so I'll answer and just let them stand or fall on their own merits):

    1. First, for now, let's drop the phrase "layman" from the question, because I'm not willing to concede that a person called by the Church into an office should be labelled a layman and that would lead into many other discussions (the necessity of ordination, the ability of the church to create new offices, what exactly an elder is, so on and so forth).

    In the LCMS, it seems that this authority to place in an office is understood to rest with the congregation (or at least is to be exercised by the congregation de jure humano), although I don't think that there is any problem with a pastor or bishop choosing his own assistants. Acts 6 has the congregation selecting with the approval of the Apostles, and Timothy is told to take care with whom he lays hands on. I'd argue that either is fine - however, if you are in a synod or body, one should act in accord with how that synod has agreed to operate (which is neither synodism or institutionalization, but simply showing love to the other people you have voluntarily bound yourself). I'd also think that a consistory would work, and perhaps other various methods, as long as the placing of a man into that office is an external call.

    2. As Scripture gives an injunction against women in the pastoral office, the placing of women into the office (as well as bigamists, etc.) is not an option for any who would be orthodox. However, we do not have a step by step rule give in the Scriptures as to how to place men into the pastoral office (or the office of deacon).

    What we do have, though, is warning against those running when not told to run, speaking when not told to speak. Thus, while we don't have a specific polity mandated, we do have the mandate of the call being external. And of course, this external call must be in accord with the qualifications established by the Scriptures.

    3. This is in response to the initial qualm with my statement. A more full statement would say, "One who fits the biblical requirements for an office does not usurp that office when placed into that office by those in authority." I wasn't specific because I was speaking to common practice in the LCMS, specifically elders. I wasn't intending to address things beyond that scope, and hence did not phrase my answers so as to apply to every possible situation.

  20. Fr. Curtis,

    You write: "Really, I think you are trying too hard. There was no such thing a "lay elder" in 1530. That is simply not what the Confessions have in mind. That much, at least, should not be controversial in any way."

    After this I will duck out and let you have the last word on the thread with me.

    I agree that the confessions don't have our system of elders in mind (do you call them "lay elders" - I've never heard that - just "elders") when they speak. However, I don't think having the congregation elect people to serve in this way runs contrary to the Confessions. AC VII lists rites as human traditions that need not be alike - I'd contend that this is one of those human rites (you can see more on my thoughts on this here - that way the flames don't clog up your comments).

    I will agree that what Missouri does is sloppy and has horrible terminology, especially as "elder" is "presbyter" is clergy in other denominations. The term for elder is one that can bring with it a lack of clarity. I am not playing a "synod man" here simply trying to defend LCMS practice with elders - I'm just saying that it's not that horrible. It should be cleaned up, but it isn't dire.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Latif,

    One more - as to your question about the seminarian who is called but not yet ordained,let me amend my words (although again, for the scope of this discussion I don't think it should have been necessary) to "elected and installed." Again, I don't know of any place where an elder is elected, but before he is installed muscles his way up to the altar. And yes, I know "installed" skips the question of ordination, but installation holds for both pastors and congregational offices.

    Now I will bow out. Enjoy gentlemen.

  23. Fr. Weedon:

    I also find the footnote 16 (p 254) interesting:

    There were one or two exceptions to this use of the term "Diakon." Philip Han's Kirchen Buch for Magdeburg (1615) used "Diakon" in the sense of "Pfarrer" and "Lector" in the sense of "Diakon." It is unclear whether Johann Gerhard's Saxe-Coburg order of 1626 used "Diakon" to refer to someone who was not yet ordained to the priesthood but who was fulfilling certain of its functions or simply to a priest who had not yet been assigned a parish of his own. The order directed that insofar as possible, students should not advance directly from school into the pastorate until they have spent time teaching or in the diaconate or otherwise in the preaching office so that they can learn the ceremonies of the church and gain experience. The deacon should be given a pastorate only after the Pfarrer has testified that the deacon has gained the necessary experience both in his preaching and in the discharge of his office in caring for the healthy and sick, and the prisoners. Cities may retain an older, senior deacon who instructs the younger ones. A person with the necessary qualifications who has not served as a deacon may be ordained into the pastorate (Saxe-Coburg 1626: 131-32).

    Thus endeth the endnote. I see much wisdom here, but what this along with your passage from p 41 tells me is that 16th & 17th century German Lutheranism was not consistently clear in its concept and practice of what a deacon is. And while indeed many Lutheran lands understood it as one who was a priest, but not the pastor of his own parish, other lands kept a more traditional practice of the distinct office of ordained deacon. Herl's excellent book does not have in its purview a treatment of the diaconate in post-reformation Lutheranism. That is for another writer.

    My view is that the wisest approach for those who would follow the spirit of the Confessions is to practice a diaconate that is at once Ministerial and distinct from the presbyterate. For this is what those who penned the Confessions would have known and lived. Thus conceived, the diaconate shares in both the teaching of the gospel and administering of the sacraments, but is not given to say mass, or to rule a church, or otherwise excercise the distinctiveness of pastoral ministry.

  24. Eric writes: "as to your question about the seminarian who is called but not yet ordained,let me amend my words "elected and installed."...And yes, I know "installed" skips the question of ordination."

    Two thoughts in response:
    1. If "elected" & "installed" are twin concepts in your view, then would it be fair to infer that you agree with me that it is a bit hasty and overly eager when some seminarists on the morning after "call night" immediately change their status on their business cards (or maybe facebook accounts?) to "pastor elect"?

    2. I for one won't skip the question of ordination. I think it is rather imnportant in the current discussion. And I wonder what your interest in skipping over it really tells us.

  25. "From Herl's *Worship Wars* (p. 41):

    An assisting priest in a parish was called a deacon or chaplain. The deacon had specific liturgical functions in a liturgical service, such as reading the Gospel and handling the chalice during communion. In a very few large churches with a great deal of ceremony, a subdeacon read the epistle and carried the houseling cloth..."

    This is identical to Rome's practice now and what the early medieval fathers wrote about the office of the deacon. (With the exception of those things that were only a part of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass, of course.) This seems to imply a two-fold office instead of the three-fold office of Rome, or even four-fold if you count the subdeaconate.

    Their vicars are ordained temporary deacons, a practice I'm in favor of. Their permanent deacons go through seminary, which makes me question whether we have a role in the Lutheran church for permanent deacons, since Rome's are trained like priests but excluded on the basis of marriage. If we were to ordain elders as permanent deacons, then why would they not need at least as much training as a vicar has had? Ordination of vicars as deacons would likely do much to clarify the issue of which roles are properly a layman's and which are reserved for clergy. Of course, I've seen women administering the chalice under conservative Roman priests in conservative diocese, which implies a problem from Rome prior to Vatican II in regards to the Eucharist.

  26. What I would like to see is for Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin and our now-in-altar-and-pulpit-fellowship fathers and brothers in the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) to teach us how to (re)introduce a diaconate here in North America. Perhaps a book of essays on the subject.

    Obviously, we're making it more difficult than it needs to be. Again, we're in full communion with the SELC - and every pastor there is twice ordained - first (by the bishop) to the grade of deacon. He wears a stole diagonally, and is authorized to perform ministerial functions except officiating at the Eucharist. In the SELC, he holds this office for three years, after which he may be ordained as a priest (again, by the bishop).

    Not only would a revived (male) diaconate address the issue of lay elders and lay ministers, it would also be a vast improvement over the vicarage program.

    BTW, I was consecrated a deacon when I was installed as a vicar. I assisted at the altar, read the Gospel, preached (under the supervision of the pastor as this was during my LCMS vicarage), but did not say Mass.

    Again, I think we make everything too complicated in the LCMS. The beauty of being a traditionalist Christian is that you don;t have to re-invent the wheel, nor do you have to clean up the messes inevitably left behind in the form of unintended consequences.

    It's just not that complicated.

  27. One further (sort of) historical thought:

    As with so many recent liturgical innovations, this one seems to have at least some of its roots in Vatican II. V2 redefined the sacrificing of the Eucharist in an important way: the priest does not sacrifice for the people, but with the people. Cue round churches and lay assistants and all manner of other oddities/evils.

    And whatever V2 did, Anglicans did. And whatever Anglicans do, Lutherans consider good liturgical practice and imitate. The rest is amongst us today.

    Never mind the fact that our theology of the liturgy is diametrically opposed to any notion of the priest doing things for or with the people towards God. Or that the idea of people "getting to do stuff" is a sign that the they are allowed to participate fully in the liturgy is so topsy-turvy as to be tragic (try applying that principle next time you go to a secular banquet: "Now let me do some cooking and table-waiting—I want to feel like I'm doing something here!").

    Which is why going ad fontes as has been done in this article is so important.

  28. Latif,

    I have just dominated comments in a previous post. I don't like that - it doesn't seem like being a nice guest. I try to be polite, even if there is a point on which I disagree. I have said that I want to get out of this conversation - so why ask more questions of me.

    More over, why write: "2. I for one won't skip the question of ordination. I think it is rather imnportant in the current discussion. And I wonder what your interest in skipping over it really tells us."

    What it says is simply that there is debate within Lutheranism as to the necessity of ordination (which I'm sure near everyone here is familiar with). However, that is a different discussion that is large and rambling - and I don't want to start yet another off topic discussion.

    That's it. It's nothing sinister. It doesn't even say which way I lean on that question. Yet even as I try to remain silent and listen, the focus still becomes what I am trying to tell. Please - let me exit the discussion and just listen.

    Thank you kindly,

    (P.S. Fr. Beane is spot on, in my personal opinion. I'm all for vicars being ordained deacons, as well as permanent local, ordained deacons who would have to attend the seminary if they wanted to become a pastor.)

  29. The year I began seminary in Ft. Wayne, I was ordained a deacon -- November of 1976 at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ft. Wayne, IN, at the hand of Pr Charles Evanson. It is a good and salutary practice and office.

    I resonate with Fr. Brown's perspective. It would seem that often the problem in Missouri is that the solution is temporary instead of permanent. I would think it would be good for any parish to have "permanent" deacons, trained theologically and liturgically, consecrated or ordained, to assist the Pastor in the liturgy and with the traditional area of service that is common to deacons historically. I think it would regularize a situation that is temporary and ad hoc.

    I confess that I am not all that concerned about elders assisting in the distribution. It is not my favorite practice but as one who communes 250-300 weekly at two services on Sunday, I can see its purpose. I do not believe that anyone in their right mind confuses these men with the Pastoral Office. Yes, they wear albs, but no stoles. Again, I am there in full eucharistic vestments, with an elder sitting on one side, an acolyte/altar server in cassock cotta on the other, I do all the parts marked for Pastor and half of those marking assisting minister, I preach, I preside, I distribute the Host and determines who communes. If there is a spill, I kneel down and cleanse the spot. If the hosts or cup runs out, I am the one who stops the distribution and sets apart more from the Sacristy, by clearly speaking the Verba from the altar... who is confused in this? Not the people in the pews in my parish.

    Is it the best situation, perhaps not. But I am nowhere near the Seminary so I have no benefit from field workers, we do not have a vicar (though that might be an option soon), and we have only a part-time retired Pastor as Pastoral Assistant and his bad back prevents him from assisting very often. So, like Fr. Brown, I find myself using elders as assisting ministers/functional deacons. BTW, even though they are temporary as elders, they remain on the active list of assisting ministers for as long as health or residence in the area allows so they are more permanent than temporary, in that respect.

  30. Pr. Peters:

    You write, of your communion assisting elders, "I do not believe that anyone in their right mind confuses these men with the Pastoral Office."

    That is not exactly the point. If you had a deacon assisting at the altar, it would be equally wrong to confuse him with the pastoral office too.

    However, in the current situation, all involved with this practice (the elders, the pastor who supports it, the people) are confused in the sense that they think it to be somehow proper. That is the main confusion that is taking place. It is worth mentioning also, however, that the Missouri Synod itself does seem a bit confused about the very nature of the elder, since its exclusion of women is said to be because of the activities which are distinctive to the office of the ministry.

  31. Fr. Brown,

    The confusion over whether or not ordination is necessary within American Lutheranism is nothing more than logomachy.

    When Walther said that ordination was not necessary he was very clear on what meant: the laying on of hands is not necessary to put a man in the Office of the Ministry, though it is an apostolic custom. You could also put a man in the Office by breathing on him, pointing at him, or kicking him in the rear end.

    But what Walther never said was that putting someone into the Office was unnecessary.

    For most people, "ordination" is short hand for putting men into the Office. That is not unnecessary - indeed, it is a Sacrament according to Ap. XIII!

    So there is no need to be confused here. The necessity of putting men in the Office of the Ministry is a real one. "Lay ministers" are specifically not put in the Office. Same with "elders."

    I utterly reject the notion that by asking men to do certain functions we are actually, contrary to our stated intent, putting them in the office in some sort of magically way. If someone has not been placed in the Office, he has not been placed in the Office. If you find yourself questioning whether he has, he has not.


  32. Pr. Peters:
    One more thought on this this morning. You say, "But I am nowhere near the Seminary so I have no benefit from field workers, we do not have a vicar" etc. The seminarist, whether he be a field education student or vicarage student, is not rite vocatus, unless he is in fact a deacon. Some of the churches in the field work radius of the seminary, in my view, ask too much of the seminarian, in terms of our Confessions. Same for vicarage. Take preaching, eg. One ought not preach unless he is at least a deacon (and a deacon must not preach unless he is told to do so by his bishop). That calls into question much current vicarage activity, as well as field ed. and seminary pulpit supply.

  33. Fr. Deacon,

    Thanks for that footnote - I'd forgotten all about that great statement from Cassimiriana.

    Fr. Heath,

    You should write up a resolution about that...oh, wait....

  34. The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America has chipped in and restored the threefold office, although I am not quite sure that they've got it right. Their deacons, as I understand it, are essentially pastors who serve missions/new congregations, under the auspices of the bishop's congregation. So, a man who is the pastor of a church in Wisconsin can be the deacon of a church in Texas until his congregation reaches some level of sustainability and calls him as their pastor.

    This seems kind of strange, but they also don't make any claims to have the issue totally nailed down.

  35. This probably doesn't get closer to an answer, but Luther has this to say in a sermon on the Epistle for the Feast of St. Stephen:

    (Speaking of Stephen and the other six chosen as deacons in Acts 6:) "Thence comes the word 'deacon,' servant or minister. For these men served the congregation, ministering to their temporal wants.

    "Plainly, then, Stephen was a steward, or an administrator and guardian of the temporal goods of the Christians: his duty was to administer them to those in need. In course of time his office was perverted into that of a priest who reads the epistle and Gospel lessons. The only trace left of Stephen's office is the slight resemblance found in the duty of the nuns' provosts, and in that of the administrators of hospitals and of the guardians of the poor. The readers of the epistle and Gospel selections should be, not the consecrated, the shorn, the bearers of dalmatics and brushers of flies at the altar, but ordinary godly laymen who keep a record of the needy and have charge of the common fund for distribution as necessity requires. Such was the actual office of Stephen. He never dreamed of reading epistles and Gospels, or of bald pates and dalmatics. Those are all human devices."

    (Speaking to the fact that Stephen was preaching in the market-place:) "The precedent of Stephen holds good. His example gives all men authority to preach wherever they can find hearers, whether it be in a building or at the market-place. He does not confine the preaching of God's Word to bald pates and long gowns. At the same time he does not interfere with the preaching of the apostles. He attends to the duties of his own office and is readily silent where it is the place of the apostles to preach."

  36. Fr. Rydecki,

    Thanks for that information. It falls right into line with Luther's Quasimodo Geniti sermons. I really do think Luther was consistent in his doctrine of the Ministry - but I think his doctrine is not what is in the Confessions, and was certainly not what was actually practiced in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    I wonder, does Luther ever comment on the I Tim and Titus passages where deacon is very obviously something more than a steward for the poor?


  37. Fr. Curtis,

    I'm not convinced yet that the Confessions teach anything contrary to Dr. Luther's teaching, given how they essentially rely on Luther's writings and teachings to flesh out their meaning (e.g., FC:SD:Introduction).

    But here are a few quotes from LW:28 on the Pastoral Epistles:

    "Deacons were men who also preached occasionally. We read in Acts 6:1–6 that they chose seven men in the church to be in charge of providing for the poor and the widows. Those deacons also at times preached, as did Stephen, and they were admitted to other duties of the church, although their principal responsibility was to care for the poor and the widows. That custom has long ceased to exist."

    "There ought to be deacons for the church— men who should be of service to the bishop and at his recommendations have control in the church in external matters."

    "You see, the deacon takes care of the people and is the bishop’s steward."

    "He imposes neither the office of teaching nor the qualifications of the bishop on deacons. Instead he gives them the responsibilities for supplies or financing."

  38. Dear K:

    You say, "The Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America has chipped in and restored the threefold office."

    With due respect I must that the ELDoNA has restored no such thing. You yourself point to a couple of the problems with their claims. One is the nature of their 'diocesan' episcopacy. Another is the convoluted nature of their diaconal office. If you want to be a microsect which uses the term "deacon" in the more Germanic sense of a presbyter who is not the pastor of a parish, then go ahead, but then don't tell us that you have "deacons." All it really means is that you have assistant pastors, not a threefold anything.

    And no offense to the people served by the gospel in ELDoNA, or to the probably majority of good pastors there, but it doesn't speak well of a small church body when one of its prominent members is a man who ought to be defrocked for breaking the seal of confession.

  39. I think if we look closely at Luther's criticisms & preaching on the diaconate, and if we look closely at the real development of the diaconate, and the problems of his age, what we will see is that the real problem was not that the diaconate grew to be exalted too highly, but than in a deeper sense it became too degraded. That is, its true nature was stripped down too far, depriving it of its full value in the Church. And this devaluing was at the hands of the clerical estate, so it received the bulk of Luther's ire in this area. This ought not mean, however, that it would be healthy for us today to conclude that the diaconate is not a unique ministry, or that the vestments are improper, or any such thuing.

  40. Fr. Rydecki,

    The Quasimodo Geniti sermons make it clear, it seems to me, that Luther believed, taught, and confessed that every Christian holds the exact same office as the Apostles, except that not everybody is called to perform the office in a regular way.

    That is certainly the teaching of WELS and Luther. But as you might imagine from my MO point of view: I do not think that this is what the Confessions teach at all.


  41. Deacon,

    I agree that Luther was not disparaging the diaconate or its vestments. He was criticizing the fact that the humble service of the needy among God's people - the original primary function of the diaconate - was being despised by the Papists, as if only those who were vested and publicly serving in the Mass were worth anything in the Church. You gotta love Luther's elevation of the Christian life in all of its aspects.

    He goes on in LW:28 to point out that, even though the office of the deacon is a lower office than that of the bishop, he is equally pleasing in God's sight and should be content with his lot, as we all should. The difference is in vocation, not in personal worth.


    A high compliment indeed, lumping WELS and Luther together! If you're going to err, as they say...

    But I have never understood, historically, that Missouri claims to be at variance with Luther on this point, nor have I ever understood the authors of any of our Confessions to make that claim. (As in, "Here's what our Lutheran churches believe and confess - although we differ from what our dear Dr. Luther has taught." - Can't say I've ever gotten that out of the Confessions.) Did Luther himself ever mention that he disagreed with anything in the AC or Apology?

  42. Latif,

    Like I said... kind of strange.

  43. Luther flat out disagrees with AC XIV in the Quasimodo Geniti sermons and with what you quoted above.

    Besides the three works that Luther wrote in the Confessions, the Formula calls on his Bondage of the Will and the Great Confession Concerning the Lord's Supper as exhibiting our doctrine.

    Luther also excoriates the idea that ordination is a Sacrament - but there it is in Ap. XIII.

    In the Table Talk Luther says you could baptize with beer and conduct the Lord's Supper with water. This is also against the Confessions.

    I'm sure an interesting paper, if not dissertation, could be written collecting all these examples.

    Not every Christian shares the same office as the Apostles. Not every Christian is an incumbent of the Office of the Ministry. Our Confessions make this clear in, among other places, AC XIV and AC XXVIII and Ap. XIII.

    Brug's latest book seems (I have not read the whole thing) to finally take the Luther-WELS line to its obvious conclusion: women are pastors by virtue of their baptism, can consecrate the Lord's Supper, and can be ordained, just not for any pastoral position that could be construed as holding authority over men.

    That, if you ask me, is not the Biblical doctrine by a long shot.


  44. Justifying every word Luther ever uttered is not what I'm about, don't get me wrong. I don't think we need to do that. However, I would make a couple of notes here for consideration.

    Luther can also be quoted to the effect that any man without priestly ordination who takes on presbyteral duties is only playing church, and has no real Sacrament (though at the moment I cannot give the citation).

    I believe the basement-low-church-sounding passages in Luther were never meant to be the basis of a new theology. First, we should strive to appreciate what he might be combatting at a given moment, or what deeper, spiritual meaning for which he might be aiming in some of these passages. Then, at the end of the day, the passages that might be too mystical for our understanding, or too seemingly denigrating of the ministry of the church or our Lord's institution of a sacrament, etc, we should pass over, and just know that he was a complex man. What he left for us, in terms of dogma and the example of his own practice, are clear and extremely instructive.

    The low church Lutherans, especially the Pietist churches like WELS, have no real concept of the distinct nature of the ministerium docendi, and true connections between them and Luther are hasty and less than fair, in my view.

  45. I confess that I haven't gotten all the way through Brug's latest, either, but Luther-WELS do distinguish between the "universal priesthood" (a Scriptural concept) and some sort of "universal pastorate" (an unscriptural concept). God has not given the vocation of pastor to all men (and certainly not to any woman). He gives it only to some men, through the call of the Church, and has instructed the Church as to the qualifications for such calling.

    I know that doesn't cover all of your objections.

    You've given several examples of Luther's supposed disagreements with the Confessions, and I'll give it some more thought. I agree that it would make for an interesting paper. I think right away that his teachings about ordination are easily reconciled with Apology XIII, however, because as Melanchthon says, different people have numbered the Sacraments differently, according to one's definitions. If "Sacrament" is defined as a sign that confers grace and the forgiveness of sins in and of itself, ordination should never be considered a Sacrament. There can be only three, by that definition. If, however, as Master Philip goes on to say, the ministry of the Word itself is meant by "ordination," then it can be called a "Sacrament," because it does confer grace - not on the one ordained, but on the recipients of the ministry of the Word. Luther never argued against Philip's reasoning, that I've seen. On the contrary - he forcefully taught it.

    Even so, with all the examples one might come up with in which Luther apparently taught something different from what is in the Confessions, I'm looking for a place where either Luther spoke against the AC or Apology (which he would have had to do if he disagreed with it), or where Melanchthon or someone else says that Luther is wrong in how he teaches about the ministry.

    I think it's a very strange idea that Luther was and remained throughout his life the great doctor and teacher of a church body that somehow repudiated some of his teachings - even while he was still alive. Equally strange would have been for Dr. Luther to have seen the Lutheran Confessions filled with unbiblical doctrine and not to have pointed out the errors directly (by citing the errors in the Confessions).

    The alternative, of course, (and I say this humbly, brother Curtis, knowing that my understanding is far from perfect and inferior to that of others) is that Luther and the Confessions are in perfect agreement with one another, and your understanding of these sections is leaning toward an extreme that neither Luther nor the Confessors had in mind.

    Like Fr. Brown, I will also be a polite guest at this point and turn into a listener only.

  46. Obviously, as has been alluded to here, the office of deacon by the time of the Pastoral Epistles has become a very different office than the meager beginnings of Acts. So what say some of the folks here about the office that Paul speaks of and of its duties and responsibilities? I am very interested in this discussion although I have not framed such a rigid opinion as some on this thread have obviously done...

  47. Fr. Rydecki,

    The unity of Lutheranism famously fell apart at Luther's death, as the differing theologies in the Lutheran territories (the "churches of the Augsburg Confession") bubbled up to the surface. Why was that? Because much of the unity up to that point found its focus in the person and leadership of Luther himself.

    You can see some of that disagreement in the signatures to the Smalcald Articles. And, of course, a generation later in the Formula they are all out in the open: "A disagreement has arisen among the teachers of the Augsburg Confession. . . "

    Much of this tension can be traced, I believe, to the disagreement's between Luther and Melancthon and other theologians which were very much hushed up during their life times (See the Wolferinus affair).

    So I don't think the fact that Luther never said, "You know, if AC V and XIV mean to say that that every Christian doesn't have the same office as the Apostles, then it's not for me," proves much. Because he went on teaching what he taught - and he was interested, indeed had a special personal interest, in being in harmony with Melanchthon. Again, the importance of the Wolferinus affair as an exhibition of this dynamic cannot be overestimated. Timothy Wengert has a great article on this.

    At any rate, I hope some enterprising scholar takes up this task, because it would be very informative for us all.


  48. A reader emails this reference for further thought:

    "Sasse, Lonely Way, vol. 2, p. 135f flat out says that the Confessions rejected Luther's "bottom up" view of the ministerium ecclesiasticum. The idea that Luther had a personal opinion differing from the confessions is nothing new."


  49. This comment has been removed by the author.

  50. Krauth:

    The private opinions of the greatest of men are here nothing. It is the faith of the Churches which is set forth, and those who acted for them spoke as their representatives, knowing the common faith, and not mingling with it any mere private sentiments or peculiar views of their own, however important they might regard them. It is a great mistake to suppose that our Evangelical Protestant Church is bound by consistency to hold a view simply because Luther held it. ***Her faith is not brought to the touchstone of Luther's private opinion, but his private opinion is to be tested by her confessed faith, when the question is, What is genuinely Lutheran?***... When, at the conferences at Augsburg, Eck produced certain passages from Luther's writings, Brentius and Schnepf replied: "We are not here to defend Luther's writing, but to maintain our Confession." (CR, p. 265)


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